HOW CAN MARKETING STRATEGY FOR ONLINE VIRTUAL TRAINING ENRICH TRADITIONAL FACE-TO-FACE TRAINING AND HELP FITNESS CLUBS RETAIN CUSTOMERS TO SUSTAIN THE BUSINESS’S GROWTH?
Location of Institution
With the emergence of the COVID-19 period, several activities shifted from the usual practice to the virtual. This posed the need for businesses also to change to remain viable. Fitness clubs are among the businesses that quickly shifted. However, there is the need to inform fitness clients regarding the offered online virtual training sessions. Certain marketing strategies can be employed to achieve this. This posed the major gap that this research paper has addressed – the various marketing strategies that can use online virtual training to enrich the traditional one-on-one fitness training sessions to maintain customers. The study employed a purposeful sampling in recruiting participants by choosing a key management team of a fitness club in Shanghai, China and sending the questionnaires via WeChat. Seven research participants were interviewed, each responding to a set of seven questions. The responses from all the participants provided adequate information, enough to answer the research question. The results indicate that fitness clubs need to be ready to adapt to the fast-changing trends in the market to remain viable. Based on the results of this study, specific steps ought to be taken by fitness clubs to identify the best marketing strategy to be employed. The measures include identifying the most appropriate marketing strategy and the target audience while considering many factors. In addition, the study brings out the management as the centre of decision making in the fitness clubs – decisions that will influence the success of online marketing and online fitness sessions venture. This study also highlights various recommendations that will ensure online virtual fitness training sessions by a selected marketing strategy. Of major highlight, based on the results of this study, fitness clubs should focus on making their marketing strategy unique; if at all, the marketing strategy should stand out among many.
Keywords: COVID-19, Virtual Training, Fitness Club, Digital Marketing and Social Media
Technology has developed in various industries, including online virtual fitness (Chen, 2021). Businesses are shifting from traditional marketing to online marketing, and the wisest are using a combination of traditional and digital marketing for their business. Besides, COVID-19 has accelerated the need for online training that includes fitness (Soto-Acosta, 2020). The government and health organisations encourage people to minimise movement and stay at home (Hamadani et al., 2020). The coronavirus has killed many people globally, creating tension in humankind. Technology has allowed people to interact and earn an income through online business. Just like the physical business, online activities require marketing to create awareness.
What types of marketing strategy can use online virtual training to enrich traditional face-to-face training and help fitness clubs retain customers to sustain the business growth?
Aim of the Research
The study aims to realise the online training benefits and shortcomings trend of the fitness clubs’ industry.
The following are the study objectives:
Significance of the Research
The study will be essential for the fitness firms that need to develop their business and ensure sustainability. Marketing strategy is critical to any business, and fitness firms must develop various techniques to market their online virtual fitness training to complement their traditional training method. The research will impart knowledge on the importance of online virtual fitness training and the need for marketing. Besides, the study will reveal various marketing strategies that training firms can use for marketing their online virtual fitness training. The research will encourage fitness firms to use both traditional and digital marketing to reach society.
The popularity of virtual training and the persuasion ability of the digital marketing strategies through social media influencers on customers based on the fitness sector defines the relationship between the traditional marketing strategy, which entails face-to-face training to enhance fitness among clients (Macon, 2020). According to Chowdhry, Verma, and Mathur (2020), online marketing strategy has recently become an effective method of enriching the traditional face-to-face marketing strategy in fitness companies because digital marketing strategy has promoted reaching many customers within a short period. Goswami and Kumar (2019) share a similar sentiment espousing the capacity of digital marketing to reach and connect more customers interested in fitness training in the online space is the main gear towards the establishment of more customers in the fitness training. Besides, Zhang and Zheng (2021) expanded with the incorporation of social media influencers in the digital marketing strategy; many techniques presented to the customers in the online platforms have resulted in increased practices and retention of customers in the face-to-face fitness training. Thus, there is evidence of a strong correlation between digital marketing on fitness training and traditional face-to-face fitness training on customer retention and recruitment (De Vries et al., 2017; Macon, 2020).
This review is based on consumer behaviour theory and self-congruity theory. Consumer behaviour theory is based on the belief that consumers’ decision-making process to purchase certain products and services in the market is prompted by their behaviour, the anticipation, desires, and wishes of a particular customer (Diba, Vella, and Abratt, 2019). In this regard, Qazzafi (2019) believes that just as human behaviour varies from one individual to another, purchasing certain products and services varies from one consumer to the other. According to Trivedi and Sama (2020), consumer behaviour theory is beneficial to companies since its beliefs help identify the factors that influence customers’ decisions to purchase products and services presented to them in the market. Sharma (2017) extended consumer behaviour theory helps companies to easily study and understand consumer behaviours hence coming up with practical strategies that ensure easy persuasion of consumers and develop effective ways of managing these consumer behaviours. Besides, the theory is based on the belief that attitude, perception, and the capacity to comprehend information about products and services influence the consumer’s personality and ideas that promote or inhibit their consumption (Govindan and Alotaibi, 2021). Chopra, Avhad, and Jaju (2020) share similar sentiments arguing that personal factors including gender, age, purchasing ability, occupation, and societal background largely shape consumers’ behaviour when making decisions on the products and services to purchase.
Moreover, Sirgy (2018) asserted that self-congruity theory is a psychological process that entails presenting consumers with an opportunity to select the brand of their choice from the variety of brands provided in the market based on their perception and opinion of the brand type and brand image. Islam et al. (2019) perceived consumer’s decision-making process to be influenced not only by their ideal self, social self, or actual self. Their perception is also influenced mainly by the image created in their minds about a given brand, even when the information about the product or service is inaccurate. Yusof and Ariffin (2016) presumed the beliefs of the self-congruity theory are held on the presumption that decision-making among consumers relies on both their past experiences about a particular product and the initial psychological processes. Consequently, Sirgy (2018) held that preceding psychological processes and previous experiences with a specific brand shape the purchasing decision among consumers. Sirgy, Lee, and Grace (2016) intimated self-congruity theory describes the propensity and relationship between self-concept and the individual personality in the consumer decision-making process.
Along with self-congruity theory, Rabbanee, Roy, and Spence (2020) explained that self-concept is a crucial influencer of consumers’ decision-making since it seeks to isolate the match between the value of the product and services and the expressive attitude shaped by the social media influencers. From this point of view, Kiiru (2018) and Sop and Kozak (2019) maintained that self-congruity theory is vital in developing the digital marketing strategy. It clarifies the critical factors for companies to consider in the production, marketing, and promotion processes before presenting the final product to the consumers in the market. In this paper, the development of self-congruity theory remains an essential tool for enabling social media marketers for online training on body fitness. The consumers gain the ability to define and select product images that build the highest standard of level, hence promoting face-to-face training.
Marketing in the Fitness Industry
Health concerns in the USA and Canada have been rising due to increased physical inactivity and obesity, which Agung and Darma (2019) assert can be alleviated by considering physical fitness as a healthy habit. Furthermore, according to Key (2017), there has been a significant increase of entrepreneurs venturing into the market due to the growing trend of individuals spending money on physical fitness. Furthermore, Kingsnorth (2019) shows that physical fitness benefits one’s brain health by helping keep your learning, thinking, and judgment skills sharp, as well as reducing the risk of depression. Therefore, from the context of the studies by Key (2017) and Kingsnorth (2019), it is easy to conclude that the rising numbers of participants in physical training derive from the need to improve personal health, hence the increase in the fitness clubs as reported by (Kotane et al., 2019).
The rising competition in the market has forced companies to strategize on customer retention through product quality. For example, Saura et al. (2019) illustrate that advancing the quality and introduction of new services improves the customer’s value and benefits. Li et al. (2021) share a similar perspective, proposing that new services which enhance customer engagement are essential to maintaining membership in a fitness company. Based on the explanations offered by Li et al. (2021) and Saura et al. (2019), it is apparent that the demand in the market requires the fitness sector to innovate new marketing strategies. Furthermore, the competition forces companies to adopt new strategies to retain and attract more customers.
Health club managers adopt measures to assess customer satisfaction, loyalty, or commitment by introducing a rating poll or comment section on their online platform. According to Lies (2019), fitness club owners use provided suggestions and compliant behaviour to identify customer dissatisfaction or consumer loyalty. López García et al. (2019) suggest that customer service is essential in improving the customer-to-business relationship. Matarazzo et al. (2021) support this opinion, saying that companies that prioritise customer service have retained profitable corporate customers. Based on the explanations offered by Matarazzo et al. (2021) and López García et al. (2019), it is evident that interaction between consumer and firms affect the perceived quality and consumer’s will to continue their membership. Therefore, fitness club staff need to focus on the customer’s satisfaction and create and maintain positive relationships with consumers.
Companies aim at retaining consumers through commercial marketing, service marketing, and general management. Natsir et al. (2020) argue that companies establish social, structural, and financial bonds to maintain consumers by improving satisfaction and consumer service. For example, Nikunen et al. (2017) assert that customer retention aligns all actions and plans intending to create, maintain, and maximize mutual benefits that strengthen the relationship between the two parties. Panasenko et al. (2018) presumed that consumer retention is associated with economic and non-economic benefits to enhance continued communication into the future. Health and fitness companies benefit from consumer retention through revenue generation and value addition. Potapova (2017) argues that retaining consumers in a competitive environment is essential for business success.
Research (Chen, 2021) shows that online platforms have motivated digital marketing strategies in the recent past. According to Bala and Verma (2018), digital marketing uses technology to improve marketing and customer preference to meet the market demands. Behera et al. (2020) report that globalization and advancement in technology have encouraged digital marketing strategies today. Brindle (2017) further shows that accessibility of the Internet and availability of technology has played an essential role in the success of virtual training in Europe. The assertion made by Camilleri (2018) helps to affirm the position taken by Brindle (2017) on the issue. Dahiya and Gayatri (2018) argue that companies should incorporate both online marketing strategies and traditional strategies to meet the precise needs of consumers. The continued technological advancements provide room for the emergence of new trends that could improve service delivery efficiency based on the consumption trends of digital marketing strategies, as illustrated in Figure 2.1
Figure 2.1 Consumption trends of digital marketing strategies (Banicek, 2019)
Communication through digital platforms improves the consumer-firm relationship. Dastane (2020) reports that consumers access more information through social media, blogs, podcasts, and text messages, allowing businesses to attract more consumers. According to Deiss and Henneberry (2020), fitness companies’ digital marketing strategies are widely accepted due to personal convenience. Dwivedi et al. (2020) shares the opinion of Deiss and Henneberry (2020), showing that online platforms like youtube, Facebook, and Instagram have become popular channels in advertising physical clubs. The growing popularity of digital marketing encourages adoption in the fitness industry.
Over the recent years, companies using digital marketing have reported increasing the firm’s value and the services provided. Febrianti et al. (2018) show that customer satisfaction and customer retention increase the profitability ratio and improve the brand’s value. The findings of Guinan et al. (2019) complements those provided by Febrianti et al. (2018), who concluded that the adoption of digital marketing positively influences the value of a company. The positions taken by Guinan et al. (2019) and Febrianti et al. (2018) on the impact of digital marketing has been supported by Ghotbifar et al. (2017), who show that digital marketing improves the growth opportunities of the business by providing tools that allow the company to identify target customers. Despite the positive remarks, critiques have been presented by Gobble (2018), who argues that ineffective marketing strategies increase the expenses incurred in advertising. Quality issues have also been outlined in the research done by Hanlon (2018), where it is evident that the quality of the digital market affects the adoption of the strategy.
The key characteristics to check for eligibility to adopt a marketing strategy are accessibility and speed in communication. Islami et al. (2020) show that the company needs to focus on internet connections when reaching individuals. Kannan (2017) indicates that geographical barriers hinder access to individuals in the locations. Therefore, Kaur (2017) recommends that companies adopt tried and tested strategies like using the Word of the Mouth in social media to achieve success. With the prevailing Covid-19 social distance and stay-at-home measures (Soto-Acosta, 2020), the use of online fitness training and an associated marketing strategy (Hamadani et al. 2020) would benefit fitness clubs immensely. The technological advancements offer a solution to the current challenges on connection and accessibility of consumers.
Creating an Effective Digital Marketing Strategy
The Internet and social media platforms have been reliable marketing strategies in the modern world. Fulgoni (2018) asserts that digital marketing allows the company to assess goals and prioritise when allocating resources. Chao et al. (2017) and Theodoridis and Gkikas (2019) observed that active customer participation shows that using online platforms may motivate new customers to consider health and fitness clubs to achieve customer satisfaction. Ratnadianti et al. (2020) support the outlined views by Theodoridis and Gkikas (2019) by proposing that digital marketing customer experience is improved by the quality of services offered and the consumer-firm relationship. Finally, Ritz et al. (2019) argue that companies have advanced their marketing strategies to incorporate digital alternatives, as depicted in Figure 2.2, especially new social media, viral marketing, mobile marketing and influencer marketing methods.
Figure 2.2: Various types of digital marketing a fitness club can adopt
Establishing an online market strategy requires defining measurable goals such as creating brand awareness, adding the number of memberships, or even getting higher ranks (Hopkins et al. 2009; Harris and Goode, 2010; Rutz and Watson, 2019). Rohm et al. (2019) show that analyzing and making informed decisions is crucial for business success in a competitive industry. Saura et al. (2019) shared a similar opinion with Chernova and Starostin (2020) that identifying the target audience is ideal for businesses to build tailored strategies that associate with their products. The manager should specify the audience’s characteristics, interests, status, and educational background. Santi et al. (2017) explore the need to understand the search intent of consumers to determine the most searched products and the frequently asked questions. The following strategic plan is to create a content library to meet the identified needs and answer the questions raised. Through the outlined steps, managers can identify the gaps in the market and take the necessary remedial measures.
Scheerder et al. (2020) suggest that companies can examine digital marketing progress as measures to track views and engagements are applied. Vinerean (2017) supports the conclusion of Scheerder et al. (2020), showing that online communication platforms enhance the assessment of consumer relations in digital marketing. Urban et al. (2017) note that it’s possible to increase membership subscriptions and shared information through online marketing strategies. The achieved business goals determine the number of investments made by a company. Davenport et al. (2020) defined the business motive to create marketing strategies to enhance product awareness and find new customers in the market, thus stimulating consumer retention. Islami et al. (2020) explored the impact of digital marketing on consumer-firm relations. Dastane (2020) demonstrated that these strategies aim to maintain open and interactive communication between consumers and companies. Fulgoni (2018) reports that search engines helped consumers identify and compare the products available; consumers can also rank the company according to services and products offered. These strategies add value to the company and the products offered.
According to Saura et al. (2019), consumer-initiated and firm-initiated communication improves the number of outcome scales. Bala and Verma (2018) show that consumers interact with the firm by sharing messages on social media platforms like Facebook. Natsir et al. (2020) suggests that firms use humour to attract more shares and views in their adverts. Such strategies continue to be applied in small and large businesses at different targets of audiences. Saura et al. (2019) indicated that growing companies use the firm-initiated strategy to inform consumers of the products. Gobble, (2018) show that customer shares and comments posted on social platforms like Facebook and Instagram helps the company improve their consumer experience. Therefore, the existent difference between market-initiated and firm-initiated communication plays varied roles in improving the company’s value.
Social Media Influencers
Evidence has shown that ratification of products from influencers in social media positively impacts organizations that seek to promote their products in the market by increasing sales rates (Dajah, 2020). There are tremendous marketing strategies applied in the digital space, gaining popularity among millennials and Z generations (Dabija and Lung, 2018; Duplaga, 2020). Grewal et al. (2020) and Hajarian et al. (2021) asserted that most Gen Zers depend on online information to make their purchase decisions, including shopping for the best fitness products. Concurring with the statement, Yuan and Lou (2020) explicit the increased use of social media influencers has gained lots of popularity because companies consider using social media influencers as the most effective way of product promotion to customers. In this regard, Silva et al. (2021) maintained that social media influencers know the specific needs of the consumers in the market as they often interact with them; hence, they easily convince them to consume products increasing profitability as a result of increased sales.
In contrast, Duplaga (2020) asserted that although social media influences have remained an effective tool of product promotion in recent, digital marketing does not guarantee an increase in the sales rate of fitness products. It was demonstrated that while product information is readily available in the digital space (Katsikeas et al. 2019), there is a risk of misinformation from influencers and cybersecurity (Mustafa and Al-Abdallah, 2020). Further, Jiménez-Castillo and Sánchez-Fernández (2019) stressed only the companies that involve social media influencers with many followers have the possibility of increasing sales rate because such influencers elicit value and confidence to customers influencing their purchase decision. Further, Sokolova and Perez (2021) contend increase in rates of sales is not dependent on digital marketing or the social media influencer’s influence but the ability of the product presented in the market to satisfy customer needs.
Nevertheless, research has revealed that social media influencers promote sales of fitness products (Abdullah, 2020). Scholars have maintained through a close re-examination of the information provided in the digital platforms by influencers. Many customers have ended up going for fitness products promoted by influencers with a large number of followers. These sentiments were accompanied by Guerreiro et al. (2019) contending influencers can shape the buyer’s perception of products in the market. However, Auxier et al. (2019) magnified that influencers’ information about fitness products varies from customer to customer.
Consequently, Ištvanić et al. (2017) stressed that social media influencers partially convince customers to purchase fitness products. Research has indicated little difference in the sales rate among fitness companies even when influencers are involved in product promotion. On the contrary, Sokolova and Perez (2021), in a study, established that companies that overlook the role played by social media influencers end up making low sales as opposed to those that involve influencers to promote their products. Jiménez-Castillo and Sánchez-Fernández (2019) share a similar point of view, arguing influencer’s potential of convincing customers, demonstrating the quality, usefulness, and reliability of the product presented to them builds the confidence of the customers increasing demand of the product.
Digital Marketing Mix
Scholars have magnified for companies to develop an effective marketing strategy, whether in modern digital or traditional marketing strategies. They ought to constantly ensure the developed strategies align with the marketing mix (Dhakar et al.,2017; Lies, 2019). According to Sulistijono and Kadarisman (2019), for effective digital marketing strategy development, there has to be a keen analysis of the customer needs with the region where the marketing strategy is about to be used. Additionally, Dhakar et al. (2017) maintained an effective marketing strategy, whether traditional or digital, to be embedded in the 4Ps of marketing. In support of this assertion, Lies (2019) illustrated that an effective digital marketing strategy must be linked to seven critical features; price, product type, place of the utilization of the strategy, promotion method, the potential consumers, the process of distribution, and availability of physical evidence of the product. Lies (2019) share a similar view that increasing newly developed digital marketing strategies should meet the 4Ps of marketing as depicted in Figure 2.3 and contain a history of effectiveness from a tested framework.
Figure 2.3: The marketing framework (https://marketingmix.co.uk/)
Furthermore, evidence has it that companies introducing new products in the market should incorporate promotion approaches that best fit the market trends and integrate the technology that the target customers commonly use since this makes the established marketing strategy accurate and effective (Lies, 2019). In support of these sentiments, Sulistijono and Kadarisman (2019) argued for companies to develop an effective digital marketing strategy. They should lay the strategy on the 7Ps framework that brought forth traditional marketing strategies. Consequently, digital marketing strategies are bound to be effective in companies that use traditional and digital systems since they are both developed on the fundamentals of practical marketing mix analysis.
While the current review focused on social media marketing strategies and their influence on traditional face-to-face marketing strategy in the fitness industry, literature has shown limited literature on the influence of social media marketing strategy on traditional marketing strategy. With limited literature on the link between social media marketing strategy and the traditional marketing strategy, the present study seeks to develop literature examining the influence that digital marketing strategy poses on traditional marketing strategy hence giving insight on how the two strategies can be integrated to promote customer satisfaction in the fitness training clubs.
The current section of the paper has elaborated an increase in the online marketing strategy in the fitness industry, indicating an increased shift from traditional face-to-face training offered in the fitness clubs because the majority of the consumer population has shifted to online shopping due to technological advancement. Further, the literature has brought out the differences between traditional and modern social media marketing strategies in customer retention and the speed of reaching potential customers. Lastly, literature has elaborated the link between social media marketing strategy and the traditional face-to-face marketing strategy in the fitness industry. The chapter below described the material and methods used in the gathering, tabulating, and interpreting the collected data.
This section outlines the materials, procedures, and methods utilized in gathering data, its analysis, and interpretation. This section elaborates the processes and procedures that the researcher explored in developing findings from the interpretation of data collected. The relation between the identified gap in literature and inferences are drawn for the analysis is dependent on salient gathering of data and its analysis. This paper illustrates the research design containing the research approach, strategy, and methods and justifies their selection. Further, the section outlines the sampling strategy, research tools, and procedures in collecting and analyzing data.
The research design used in the paper was based on the research onion described by Sahay (2016) as depicted in Figure 3.1 below.
Figure 3.1: Research onion (Sahay, 2016)
This paper adopted an exploratory design for the research problem presented with scarce data in previous studies to infer. According to Žukauskas et al. (2018), an exploratory research design entails developing literature on a research topic or idea with little or no previous data. Further, Swedberg (2020) and Luciani et al. (2019) shared the opinion that examining a problem that is not exclusively defined, such that its investigation leads to a better understanding of the prevailing gap, is based on an exploratory design. In this study, exploratory design exemplifies how marketing strategies can be implied on virtual training to enhance the typical face-to-face training. The subject is new with advances in digital technology and is inquiring about its potential to maintain and expand fitness clubs. In this case, the researcher commenced the investigation with a general idea of marketing strategies and introduced the components of online virtual training to identify issues related to its feasibility and potential in the traditional face-to-face fitness training.
An inductive research approach was used in the analysis and interpretation of the collected data. Jebb, Parrigon, and Woo (2017) defined the inductive approach to span from specific to general, building a generalized opinion from a particular perspective. Woo et al. (2017) developed a consistent definition of Jebb, Parrigon, and Woo (2017), arguing that the inductive approach in research is a systematic procedure entailed in analyzing and interpreting qualitative data. The detailed analysis is dependent on the specific objectives. The inductive research approach posits a general approach that derives an easily explained and systematic set of processes for examining qualitative data to produce valid, reliable, and generalizable findings.
In comparison, the inductive approach is not regarded for robust analytics in model development. However, it was considered ideal in this research. It provided a simplified and straightforward approach towards deriving findings on how marketing strategies targeting digitized virtual training can be extrapolated in traditional face-to-face fitness training by contextually evaluating the research questions.
The grounded theory was considered an ideal research strategy to examine marketing strategies inclined towards digital platforms. According to Dougherty (2017), grounded theory explains a group of systematic inductive approaches in collecting, analyzing, and interpreting qualitative data targeting the development of a generalized perspective. Chun Tie et al. (2019) concurred with Dougherty (2017) that the methodological approaches embedded in grounded theory aim to build the generalized perspectives directly from inferences drawn from the analyzed data. Using grounded theory in this paper was motivated by the need to exploit the explicit and sequential procedures in the conduction of the qualitative study and the provision of specific strategies entailed in the analysis phase of the study. Moreover, this paper used grounded theory because it helped integrate and streamline the gathering and analysis of data while advancing the conceptual interpretation of the collected qualitative data inductively. As Noble and Mitchell (2016) initially demonstrated, grounded theory was associated with the inductive theoretical thrusts leading to strong empirical foundations sourced from abstract, focused, and empirical explanation of the study objectives.
This paper was based on a qualitative method considering the research strategy founded on grounded theory and inductive approach. Silverman (2020) describes qualitative methods to entail the acquisition of data via informal and open-ended communication. Hennink, Hutter, and Bailey (2020) agreed with Silverman (2020) that a qualitative method is designed to examine the target population’s opinions, behaviours, and perceptions referencing the topic under study. The researcher used a qualitative method to gather primary data to build a generalized view of marketing strategies’ potential on online virtual training based on people’s opinions in the industry. The feasibility of using virtual training models to augment typical face-to-face fitness training to maintain and increase customer base was drawn from experiences of people using online platforms for fitness training.
The population targeted in this research was people running and using fitness training facilities in Shanghai, China. In particular, the research focused on business executives operating and managing fitness clubs, mainly with a physical face-to-face training venue. A sample of eight participants was selected purposively to assist in collecting raw data on the potential of marketing strategies in online virtual training in traditional face-to-face fitness training clubs. The sample was considered ideal because of its capacity to provide diverse and unique opinions on the research objectives. As Sharma (2017) initially demonstrated, purposive selection necessitates participants to meet a criterion, as was the present inclusion-exclusion criteria. The inclusion criteria required the participants to own, operate, or manage a fitness club with a physical location in Shanghai. Secondly, the participants were required to have adequate experience and information about fitness business concepts. The research excluded club members or business executives who have inactively involved their fitness training on line. Recruitment was performed by emails/wechat messages to the candidate participants because it was not possible to meet face-to-face under the current Covid -19 pandemic.
The research used interviews in the collection of primary data. Corti et al. (2019) described primary data as a raw type of data gathered directly from the primary source through surveys, observations, experiments, and interviews. As Mann (2016) elaborated, interviews encompass a structured conversation between two or more people, the interviewer asks questions, and the other, the interviewee(s), provides answers to them. Spradley (2016) agreed with the view of Mann (2016) that an interview entails a one-on-one conversation involving an interviewee and an interviewer building on responding to the research questions. In this paper, interview questions were developed consistent with the research questions. Specifically, seven open-ended questions were designed and presented to each participant. Interview questions were used to facilitate their own opinions seeking to answer the research inquiry. Moreover, interview questions were used because they allowed the interviewer to pose follow-up questions to pursue more information where clarity was not initially achieved. As Adhabi and Anozie (2017) had initially argued, interviews allowed the researcher to collect non-verbal cues and observations as data entailing marketing strategy reception.
Data was collected via interviews that were conducted over Wechat mobile application. As described above, the collection of data via interviews involved the interviewer, who coordinated the interaction process by asking questions and allowing the participants to respond to those questions. Interviews were used in this research because they presented a means of collecting in-depth information on the experiences, opinions, and thoughts of the included business executives with fitness training clubs on digital marketing using online virtual training. The interviews were performed over Wechat, a video/call conferencing tool installed in mobile phones. The researcher scheduled with the participants the convenient time for the interviews. During the interview sessions, the researcher created a conducive atmosphere for each participant to air their opinions freely. Every interview session was scheduled to take between 20 and 25 minutes. All responses by the participants were recorded and saved in a password-protected mobile phone for reviews and analysis.
On collection, the interview responses were tabulated and subjected to thematic analysis. According to Terry et al. (2017), thematic analysis entails analyzing data isolating possible patterns and meanings matching the research questions. In addition, Maguire and Delahunt (2017) and Chambers (2018) agreed that thematic analysis directly examines the collected data to identify unique patterns of opinions and views that correspondingly reply to the research questions. Moreover, as Nowell et al. (2017) demonstrated, the analytical thematic model is developed following a specific set of guidelines to construct inferences from the analyzed data. Using suppositions from Javadi and Zarea (2016), the current data analysis commenced with familiarization with the gathered data leading to assigning codes to the data transforming it into meaningful datasets. After that, the datasets were further examined, isolating possible patterns of meaning. The identified patterns were defined as themes consistent with the answers to the research questions. As Belotto (2018) demonstrated, the thematic analysis used qualitative interview responses to create textual data and employ a thematic model in its breakdown and interpretation.
The researcher obliged to brief the participants on the research rationale, its purpose, and possible benefits. Further, the researcher sought participants’ consent which was accorded through an informed consent form. The informed consent form provided the participants with guidelines of participation informing them on their right to withdraw from the research or answer any question of their choice without any consequences. Participation was made voluntary, and no member was forced to participate or influenced to give specific responses. Moreover, as Siti Roshaidai (2018) defined, all data collected was subject to confidentiality, considering that participants’ replies were documented for further review and analysis. Codes were used in all the responses to keep the anonymity and the identity of the respondents.
This section has described the materials, processes, and procedures involved in gathering data, analysis, and interpretation. The researcher used an exploratory research design to develop a qualitative study based on data collection on grounded theory as the research strategy and an inductive approach to guide data analysis and interpretation. Specifically, seven purposively selected were subjected to interviews over Wechat to collect responses consistent with the research questions. The gathered data were analyzed using a thematic analysis model, and the findings are outlined and described in the following section.
The study followed the thematic analysis approach, which is a method of qualitative data presentation and analysis. The technique aims to identify, analyze, and interpret the patterns of phrases in the form of codes and grouping into meaningful groups known as themes that are further reviewed to assess their credibility and relevance. The various approaches in which thematic analysis can be done include coding, codebook approaches, and reflective approaches. The study used the Codebook approach, which included analyzing the matrices, templates, and frameworks (Braun, and Clarke,2019). Thematic analysis of qualitative data was deemed relevant for the study due to its various advantages. One of the advantages of this study is that the method is flexible, where both inductive and deductive approaches can be used. In addition, with the method chosen, it was easy to capture the unknown information from the studies that proved to be instrumental in developing sound arguments in the discussion. Such arguments would be used to generate facts while also vindicating (upholding) existing facts. It would justify that which is known, hence applauding the suitability of the approach to the paper (Terry et al., 2017).
Familiarisation, Coding and Derivation of Themes
The process began with familiarisation with the obtained data from the questionnaires through a line-by-line analysis of the interview transcripts. The process of familiarization is crucial because it ensures no information is left out during the interpretation of results since any information left out during results interpretation means obtaining inaccurate results that do not reflect the true picture in the area of research. The textual information in the form of closely related codes was classified into three themes that were reviewed as follows.
Review of Results
Marketing strategies form an essential aspect of business, clearly elaborated by the participants as indicated by the interview transcripts.
Participant 1: use online advertising on social media platforms like TikTok and Dianping.
Participant 1 mentioned that using social media platforms in advertising the services provided by the fitness clubs is concurrent with the assertions of participant 2 and that of participant 4. The social media platforms include Tik Tok (Douyin), Wechat, Dianping and Kuaishou. This is also concurrent with the mention of participants 5 and 6. Participant 6 further argues that people nowadays spend so much time on their mobile phones, in concurrence with the other five research participants.
Participant 2: fitness club’s neighborhood, whether residential, office area or a mixture of both.
Participant 2 properly explains to the target audience in agreement with participants 4, 5, and 6 that the gym’s proximity affects compliance. The closer the proximity of the fitness club premise, the easier it is to for the clients to attend daily fitness sessions. Participant 3 brings in an aspect of health conditions as the determinant of their target clients. Participants 7 and 6 concur as they mention age as the determinant of target audience selection.
Participant 2: conduct an in-depth analysis of our gym’s customer demographics and psychographics regularly. Based on the findings of the investigation, to adjust our business strategy to maximize our income.
Regarding the regular analysis and evaluation of the business data to tailor the fitness club’s services, participants 2, 3, 4, and 6 concur. They argue that a thorough review of results from clients will help the club know where to adjust to growing. In addition to that, participant 5 mentions that direct and simple mention of products’ prices on online platforms is vital.
One-on-one versus virtual training programme
The interview transcripts clearly illustrated the comparison between online virtual fitness sessions and one-on-one fitness sessions, with the various advantages and disadvantages highlighted below.
Participant 2: flexibility and convenience to fit their training time needs even after the club’s business hours.
Participants 1, 2, and 3 concur regarding the advantages of online virtual fitness sessions. The costs incurred in attending physical fitness sessions are also reduced dramatically by online training, according to participant 4. Participant 7 agrees with the other participants by mentioning that online fitness sessions help one maintain their daily exercise regardless of the changing circumstances in terms of location.
Participant 3: no professional guidance and unavailability of equipment in the gym are the significant disadvantages of online training.
The view that clients will not have access to the equipment usually available in the fitness clubs is consistent with participants 6, 3, and 1. Unless one employs a gym instructor, they will not have someone to guide them while training at home.
Participant 1: injury due to the improper methods being used and without the guidance of the instructor.
Participants 1 and 4 align with the view that some of the procedures applied during fitness training are complex and require an experienced person to guide. Participant 4 also argues that the online session may not be helpful for people or clients who have just begun fitness sessions with their instructors.
Response of fitness clients and recommendations
Regardless of the market strategy employed, the response likely to be obtained from fitness clients will vary, as depicted from the results obtained in this study. Study participants also gave some recommendations that will help in promoting fitness clubs.
Participant 2: online training might be an added value service to private training in that members pay a substantial hourly fee to the personal coach.
Participants 1 and 2 have agreeable opinions towards integrating online training sessions with physical one-on-one training sessions. Participants 1 and 2 suggest that online training sessions should be introduced as an extra package to those paying for personal coaches for the training sessions.
Participant 3: offering online and offline training will incur many variable expenses, which may not be profitable to the gym.
Participants 3, 5, and 6 all concur that integrating online virtual training sessions may not be profitable to the business. The common argument that comes out clear amongst the three is that the fitness club may incur more costs with fewer returns at the end of the day.
Participant 4: act proactively to satisfy our customer’s expectations
The recommendations provided by all three participants 1, 3, and 4 are in sync, in the sense that in every step taken by a fitness club in marketing itself, the main objective must be to meet the expectations of the clients and prospective clients.
Limitations of the Results
To begin with, the study’s results do not indicate or elaborate on the various examples of mobile content that can be best applied. There are no specific details of the content that can apply to the study. The participants point out several platforms, but they do not explain in particular details how they can be utilized in marketing. In addition, the study results have many repetitions concerning the various pros and cons that might be experienced while venturing into online means of marketing the fitness clubs. Furthermore, the findings do not highlight the different marketing strategies to target a specific type of audience. For example, the type of marketing strategy selected for a target audience of those near the fitness club is different from the type of marketing strategy employed to a target audience comprised of those with certain health conditions. Another limitation is that the participants have focused on the disadvantages of online marketing as a tool, while at the same, time traditional marketing strategies have shortcomings too.
With the advent of globalization, businesses have begun shifting their paradigm from traditional marketing to online marketing modes. In addition, some companies are combining the use of both traditional and online methods of marketing strategies. In this wave of change, fitness clubs are not left out. In addition to the online marketing, the fitness clubs are also beginning to integrate online fitness sessions in their training packages, especially observed with the emergence of COVID-19 that struck the whole world (Soto-Acosta, 2020). Figure 1 supports the statements by showing an increased number of online virtual training viewers, especially during COVID-19. With the fast-growing busy world, people are likely to prefer getting services from the comfort of their homes or wherever they are at that particular moment. Keeping this in mind, therefore, fitness clubs will have to find a solution to all the shortcomings that come with online virtual fitness training. For the fitness clubs to remain viable as businesses, solutions to the presenting challenges associated with online virtual fitness training that reduce the exercises’ effectiveness during the session will have to be addressed.
Figure 1: Image of a graph showing the statistics regarding fitness training before and after the emergence of COVID-19 (University of Bath, 2021)
Types of Marketing Strategies, the Impact, Target Audience, and Steps toward Business Growth
In the study findings, all participants accrue benefits such as improved sales and attitudes to the online fitness activity and thus an improvement in the margin of sales. The participants and Chao et al. (2017) statements align as they describe marketing strategy as one of the most important determinants of business success. It may control customer attitudes and motivation towards the purchase of a particular good or a service. As per the results, marketing strategies form an essential aspect of business that was elaborated by the participants as indicated by the interview transcripts, and some of the strategies that were highlighted include the use of social media referrals, market data analytics to tailor the marketing structure, use of tokens, print media advertisements such as flyers magazines and proper interior design for the fitness centres to create an enticing environment for the customers. Figure 2 indicates the various digital marketing strategies used, which support the arguments regarding the importance of social media in marketing.
Figure 2: Image of a graph showing the types of marketing strategies employed by fitness clubs (Leve, 2021).
The results highlight the use of social media platforms in advertising the services provided by the fitness clubs. Some of the mentioned social media platforms include Tik Tok (Douyin), Wechat, Dianping, and Kuaishou. In addition, social media is seen to be advanced by the participants as they agree that people spend much time on their digital devices, therefore emphasizing the weight and influence that social media platforms could have on the marketing strategies of fitness clubs. The argument above is in line with the assertion by Chen (2021), who describes social media marketing as part of digital marketing and to be the future in marketing. As stated by the participants, the increase in utilization of smartphones also aligns with the observations by Behera et al. (2020), who report that the augmented use of digital devices has raised the relevance of digital marketing strategies.
Furthermore, the results agree with Katsikeas et al. (2019) that nowadays, people are so much on their phones in the daily search for information, especially from social media platforms. This is depicted by the increasing number of phone users, as noted in Figure 3. This is also in sync with the argument of Deiss and Henneberry (2020), who advance the argument further by stating that social media marketing is an integral component of digital marketing due to the widespread use of social media. These arguments can be validated in that marketing as a practise needs to evolve as per the trends where the main objective of marketing is to get the attention of as many people as possible, making social media a favourable modality of digital marketing. However, for digital marketing to be successful, there need to be parameters of measurability and accountability. According to the findings, such measures were not clear, with some participants only implying that the success is attributed to people’s compliance to fitness activity and the increase in subscription. It does not align with the assertions by Rutz and Watson (2019) concerning success definition in terms of measurability and the creation of brand awareness. Consequently, Scheerder et al. (2020) suggest examining progress with key performance indices to monitor progress. From the above arguments, it can be deduced that social media marketing is pivotal as most of the other digital platforms are driven by social media instead of traditional marketing methods.
Figure 3: Graph showing the increasing number of smartphone users (Research Gate, 2021).
The participants bring in marketing through referrals and proper price tagging when clients come to the gym and post pictures on social media while practising. These pictures will be viewed by their contacts, which may motivate interest in many prospective clients who will ultimately attend training at the fitness club. These findings concur with Dabija and Lung (2018), who explain that with the new generation and the use of social, media referral marketing through trends can easily capture the attention of the millennials and generation Z. Hajarian et al. (2021) concur with Dabija and Lung (2018) by explaining that most Gen Zs depend on online information to make their purchase decisions, including shopping for the best fitness products. It is important to note that businesses are also rated by clients on how well they offer online services to clients, and the quality of the online services provided during those particular training sessions – the quality of the video, in this context. A club that heavily invests in structures that aid in providing online virtual services is more likely to be at the top of the competitive market and outdo its competitors. The aspect of referral marketing from the above arguments is widely supported due to the snowball effect on the marketing world, as fitness activities and services are provided by a particular centre that attracts more customers in social media.
The results highlight the regular analysis and evaluation of the business data to tailor the fitness club’s services. They argue that a thorough assessment of results from clients will help the club know what to adjust to growing. Growth means better service provision to clients. The results concur with the assertions by Scheerder et al. (2020), who underpin the importance of data in monitoring the progress of the business. These findings are further supported by Vinerean (2017), who explains the importance of feedback in the optimization of business activities. From these arguments, data collection and analysis are essential in any business process as it enables the reduction of losses through customer-based service provisions. Of note is that data analytics are slowly becoming a vital concept for ensuring that business activities are optimized. However, this concept may raise concerns, especially with regard to cybersecurity and data privacy. Therefore, it must be approached under the law.
Target audience as a factor in marketing strategy
According to a certain age range, the participants would determine their target audience, those who are accustomed to fitness coaching, and those with a particular medical condition, specifically cervical spondylosis, lumbar spine, and leg problems, as a result of a sedentary lifestyle. In addition, the target audience for the selected marketing strategy would be determined by the proximity of the prospective clients to the fitness club’s location. Davenport et al. (2020) argument regarding the target audience of a business as a factor to consider when choosing a marketing strategy is thus, concurrent with the mention of all seven participants of the study. Therefore, a marketing strategy has to have a target audience to achieve the intended goal or objective. Mustafa and Al-Abdallah (2020) highlight an essential argument regarding traditional advertisements, such as the press. As per the researchers, the larger audience reached out might not be the initially targeted audience. The advertisement, therefore, becomes irrelevant as it does not achieve the primary objectives that it was intended for. Figure 3 below shows some of the types of clients that can be found within a fitness club.
Figure 4: Image of a graph showing some examples of the types of fitness clients in fitness clubs (IHRSA Staff, 2021).
One-on-one Versus Virtual Training Program
The interview transcripts clearly illustrated the comparison between online virtual fitness sessions and one-on-one fitness sessions, highlighting the various advantages and disadvantages. The participants concur regarding the advantages of online virtual fitness sessions. Everyone would prefer an easier way of doing things and achieving the same results, which is not an exception. Therefore, clients are expected to follow a gym instructor online instead of making daily trips to the gym. The results align with Saura et al. (2019), who associate online business modalities with improved outcomes due to enhanced status in terms of communication, giving an example of platforms such as Facebook. Theodoridis and Gkikas (2019) add that these digital business methods can advance the quality of services offered by firms by reducing the need for physical companies and incorporating hybrid business models. It is important to note that even in the steps towards successful marketing of a fitness club, the management must be careful not to focus too much on attracting the prospective clients, then forgetting the clients at hand. Therefore, a balance is paramount, which applies in this case, where a sense of balance is necessary to maintain the club’s reputation about clients’ feedback and reviews. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to social distance and stay-at-home measures, as per Soto-Acosta (2020). Therefore, most physical meetings have been made impossible. These findings concur with the results by explaining that virtual online training is likely to be the norm in the long run. Online fitness sessions can assist a person in maintaining their daily exercise regardless of the changing circumstances in terms of location. The online preference can be explained by the COVID-19 pandemic, where physical meetings have been rendered unsafe, forcing the gyms and fitness centres to adopt new training modalities to fit in with the laid protocols.
Some of the participants’ concerns regarding online fitness include the view that clients will not have access to the equipment usually available in the fitness clubs, as illustrated by the participants. This is in agreement with the assertions by Lies (2019), who explains that, to some extent, an online business may prove to be cheap to the company but more expensive for the customers who need to acquire some equipment which they use in the physical business facilities. Concerning this study, a shift to online research may prove to be more accessible for the gym but may be costly for the customers because the equipment is costly for most clients to purchase and set up in their houses. In addition, compliance may be reduced some techniques missed unless one employs a gym instructor. Therefore, for online business modalities to succeed and overcome the stated disadvantages, certain strategies need to be adopted to ensure that there is a proper alignment with the current status. However, nowadays, many people set up gym rooms in their homes and purchase gym equipment. The fitness clubs can take advantage of this since the clients can follow the instructions of the gym instructor while in their rooms. This way, the whole purpose, goal, and objective of the sessions will be attained. Lies (2019) underpins that for any business to be successful, the marketing strategy needs to factor in aspects such as the 4Ps of marketing, including product, price, place, and promotion. From the study, it can be deduced that online businesses work well in packaging the product, where the company can readily get access to a large pool of customers through digital marketing. Hence, the operation price is significantly reduced as physical costs of handling businesses are decreased, and promotion is easier due to social media marketing’s snowball effect through influencers and trends via various platforms, such as TikTok.
Response of Fitness Clients and Recommendations
The study results highlight the various benefits experienced by the fitness clients due to following the online virtual fitness training sessions. One of the highlighted benefits from the results is the flexibility on the clients’ side in scheduling for the attendance of the sessions since they can follow the sessions from wherever they are at any time. Another reason, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is that online virtual training sessions reduce interactions with others, protecting the clients’ health. Therefore, most people would prefer an easier way of doing things and achieving the same results, and sport is not an exception. Consequently, it is expected that clients would like to follow a gym instructor online to having to make daily trips to the gym.
Online and physical training are two different activities that have different impacts, depending on the perspectives and goals of the clients. Therefore, other customers have different views about these modalities of doing business. From the results, an explanation regarding the target audience that the proximity of the gym affects compliance. The closer the proximity of the fitness club premise, the easier it is to for the clients to attend daily fitness sessions. Therefore, it only makes sense that the neighbourhood or people working nearby will be the target clients. The results are in agreement with the perspectives by Duplaga (2020), who explains that digital marketing modalities do not guarantee any improvement in the business of fitness products. This is because most of these people interested in this business prefer a personalized touch to their goods or services. Kannan (2017) is of an alternative opinion and indicates that geographical barriers hinder access to individuals in remote locations, thus always necessitating online modalities of handling business. Therefore, from the above arguments, proximity to the fan base may, at times, act as a way to market and boost the sales of fitness products, especially in regions where people are busy and have fitness products nearby.
From the results, health conditions are the determinant of the attitudes of target clients. The working class, the old, and those who have a sedentary lifestyle may have to exercise to maintain fit and avoid health complications. Such people find delight in activities that can help them maintain physical fitness, as indicated in the results. The results align with the perspective of place encompassed in the 4Ps of marketing, as Lies (2019) put forth. The business needs to meet the tailored needs of the people in the particular place to be successful. In this aspect, fitness products need to meet the requirements of the target market’s demographics. The recommendations provided by the participants are in synchrony – in every step taken by a fitness club in marketing itself, the main objective must be to meet the expectations of the clients and prospective customers. Regardless of the marketing strategy selected by the fitness club in marketing itself, the end result should be one – to capture prospective clients’ attention and encourage current clients to keep coming.
The various marketing strategies employed by a fitness club, as expected, will cause a response or feedback from clients and prospective customers. The response to be obtained from the fitness clients can vary, as depicted by the study participants. In addition, the participants also gave a number of recommendations that they think will be of much help in the endeavour of promoting online fitness sessions. Some of the participants suggest that online training sessions should be introduced as an extra package to those paying for personal coaches for the training sessions by a particular business. From the results, introducing the extra online training sessions in the personal coach package will put the business at the top amongst its competitors in the market. Clients prefer businesses that make them feel cared for, not exploited monetarily. A company should never strictly operate on a ‘profit made’ basis, as this will not compete with other businesses. Instead, a business that aims to move forward and prosper will have to sacrifice. The sacrifice comes in when a business decides to introduce offers to clients – offers on their goods and services. These products need to be offered as an adjunct to physical benefits. The results align with Urban et al. (2017), who explains that for online services to be rolled out successfully, they need not be a replacement for physical goods and services offered. Therefore, they can initially be offered extra services, allowing the business to perform an in-depth SWOT analysis. When such additional service is introduced to the training sessions package, the clients will be encouraged to continue paying for the sessions consistently. The above will ensure customer satisfaction. As per Febrianti et al. (2018), customer satisfaction is pivotal in the success of any business venture. The extra service in the package creates an impression that the fitness club’s main interest is not about the clients’ money. Instead, the fitness club’s main objective is to help the clients achieve their goal of maintaining physical fitness. As mentioned earlier, while reviewing the various market strategies that can be employed, these clients who enjoy the extra service under the personal coach package can, in turn, inform their friends and relatives regarding the services they are enjoying. These clients can also post on social media platforms how well the fitness club provides services to its clients. This way, more clients will sign up for the same personal coaching package and other fitness training packages. The ultimate result is more and more clients, which may necessitate expanding the fitness club.
The results indicate that the integration of online virtual training sessions may not be profitable to the business. The common argument that comes out clear amongst the three is that the fitness club may have to incur more costs with fewer returns at the end of the day. Sulistijono and Kadarisman (2019) agree with the results and explain that before the business venture is successful, the entrepreneur ought to adopt evidence-based market analysis in order to ensure that the business approach, whether physical or online, does not plunge the business into losses. Sokolova and Perez (2021) elaborate that neither physical or online business strategies must be overlooked to keep steady sales. The adoption of online business modalities may be expensive from the results, which also aligns with the findings by Islami et al. (2020). Islami et al. (2020) note that it has to have access to the internet for any online business entity to be successful. The argument still underpins the importance of place as one of the 4Ps of Lies (2019). Lack of internet confers the inability to conduct the stated mode of business. The installation of the various structures to be used in the online training sessions by the fitness club instructors is undoubtedly expensive. It may involve the installation of a reliable internet data supply accompanied by a monthly data subscription.
Furthermore, the electronic gadgets to be used while capturing the gym instructors lead the clients in the sessions, and airing it live to the clients, is also expensive in the start but may evolve to be cheap for the business. The professional manpower to manage and operate this equipment is also another nightmare that the fitness club management may experience. Employing professionals who will appropriately handle the equipment for virtual online training sessions is also undoubtedly expensive.
Another advantage of online business as per the customer feedback is the flexibility it confers from the results. Another aspect that comes out is that while training virtually, there are many online training options to choose from by an individual client in this case; therefore, posing a lot of competition to the online services provided by the fitness club. This is probably because nowadays, many apps can be operated offline by a phone user. It is important to note that the online sessions will also require expenses on the client’s end, mainly to purchase internet data. Take a scenario of two clients; one has the option of choosing between an offline-operated app and a Zoom training session that should last for a duration of three hours. The other client has a Zoom training session as the only option. It is evident that the former client will readily choose the offline-operated physical fitness app. From the results, the price differences between the online sessions, which can also be offered free of charge, may confuse clients about the position of the fitness gym. The statement above concurs with the findings of Yuan and Lou (2020), who explain that online modalities of business confer flexibility as they can be tailored to meet the trends and the needs of the customers with limited costs required in rebranding and reposting of information. The flexibility advantage of this modality does not always confer profits, as stated by Potapova (2017). This means that in as much as the fitness club may invest in the online training sessions, great losses might be incurred due to the small number of attendances of the virtual sessions. In a nutshell, the online training sessions might never be worth investing in at all in the first place.
Implications of the study
The study met the objective of the study by elaborating factors surrounding social media marketing, customer preferences and an analysis of the feedback given by the participants in relation to the factual information cited in the literature. This study indicates that there is a step that fitness clubs can take in improving themselves. Fitness clubs can use the results of this study to select an appropriate marketing strategy and implement it. The study can assist in practical application of the marketing modalities stated, such as the social media platforms and the use of the other electronic media in the process of marketing. Ideally, a marketing strategy is normally targeted towards a specific type or group of prospective clients. It is expected that most, if not all the prospective fitness clients will respond to the marketing strategy. This means 100% returns to the fitness clubs on the costs incurred while developing the marketing strategy. The online virtual service provision of physical fitness sessions also involves costs that would be recovered in the ideal situation that prospective clients’ response will be sufficient. However, in the real practical situation, a fitness club may incur losses due to poor response or feedback from clients in the market. This limitation is not captured within the study results. Marketing involves the application of various marketing strategies by a fitness club.
Some of the highlighted marketing strategies include social media platforms such as TikTok, Dianping, and Douyin. Additionally, the results of this study can be used to carry out research on the determiners of the success of the various types of marketing strategies that have been clearly highlighted here. Other businesses and organizations can also use the results of this study regarding the success of online marketing to improve their businesses. In order to overcome the limitations of the study, first the sample size needs to be increased in future studies with a multifaced questionnaire that explores the study questions in depth. In addition, future studies need to focus on the pros and cons of digital marketing modalities and all the marketing modalities.
The study can be applied in theory in that it gives a basis for referencing for future studies. In addition, it can be used in academic settings to improve marketing knowledge, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study can also confirm the theory that a tailored approach to marketing, hybrid marketing strategies, and evidence-guided marketing strategies are superior to traditional marketing strategies. The study also demonstrates the idea that digital marketing strategy forms a platform for the future of marketing by highlighting the various digital marketing strategies, especially the various social media platforms that other businesses have successfully used to market their goods and services.
With regards to the practical implications of the study, the research study presents results that can apply in a number of situations. The results to the study indicate the use of online social media platforms as a marketing strategy that fitness clubs can exploit. Therefore, the government can come up with policies that govern the use of online marketing by fitness clubs to ensure healthy competition and the use of online social media platforms. Other businesses other than fitness clubs can also note from this study’s results that service provision has gone virtual, especially with the emergence of COVID-19. This will help in retaining and gaining new clients thus maximizing profit and returns. The management of fitness clubs can also use the results of this study to identify their strengths and weaknesses and then lay down strategies to address them. In addition, researchers can look into the results of this study, and study a specific section of the results.
Fitness clubs need to adapt to the fast-changing trends in modes of service provision so that a fitness club, as a business, maintains its client flow to remain viable in the competitive marketplace. This can only be ensured through marketing of the fitness club via various marketing strategies.
To begin with, fitness clubs should identify and critically note down the various marketing strategies available, so that they can have a pool to choose from while making a decision regarding the best marketing strategy. As noted from the study results, there are a number of marketing strategies including social media. It is also paramount for the fitness clubs to identify the marketing strategy applied by their competitors. Indeed, the saying ‘no man is an island,’ as always put, is exclusively applicable in this case. Identifying the competitors’ strategy will help the fitness club identify the direction to take in the identification of the most appropriate marketing strategy. In as much as each fitness club is unique, there are certain common factors that apply across. It is therefore, essential that fitness clubs study the market in terms of competition before making a decision.
The second most essential factor to be taken into consideration by fitness clubs is the identification of the types of clients present currently. The reason for this is it helps in clearly identifying the extent of its coverage in service provision. The market coverage of a business determines its target audience. For example, a fitness club can have fitness clients who majorly have lifestyle conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cardiac diseases. The target audience is the backbone of a business – a fitness club in this case. Target audience determines the client pool. Unless the target audience is reached, the business will never thrive. Therefore, the business needs to perform a study to assess their potential customers and their individual needs. Fitness clubs should also take into consideration the careful selection of the most appropriate marketing strategy suitable for its context.
In addition, it is essential for fitness clubs to select the most appropriate marketing strategy to ensure it makes its approach unique. In the business world, only the unique service providers usually stand out. Therefore, a fitness club should not just blindly implement the selected marketing strategy. Instead, the fitness club ought to focus on making its advertisement tailored through the available platforms where their target market prefers that the prospective clients amongst the target audience will not be able to resist seeking the services of that particular fitness club. The fitness club should ensure that its posts or videos for marketing are unique from the rest. This is an essential aspect to consider by a fitness club if it aims to thrive in the competitive market. Without this, as earlier mentioned, the marketing strategy will be in vain, with the original objective not met.
Fitness clubs should never ignore the fact that the best marketing strategy that can ever be used in this era is social media platforms, and this cannot be better emphasized more than how much the results of this research study has revealed and emphasized. Fitness clubs should focus on establishing their social media handles such as Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and other social media platforms available such as Facebook. The marketing can be done through promoted advertisements that are cheap to run and can reach a large number of people. As revealed by the study results, it is only through social media platforms that a fitness club can reach a wide population of its prospective clients.
Fitness clubs should note that even during identifying and implementing marketing strategies to promote their services such as online fitness sessions, the physical one-on-one training sessions should not be neglected as they can still be a source of income.
Finally, fitness clubs need to develop legal data collection and market analytics strategies to address the various shortcomings associated with implementing online virtual training sessions and as a marketing strategy. The rationale for this is that it is essential to prepare to tackle any issue that may arise.
Aim of this research: To find out the various marketing strategies that fitness clubs can apply in promoting the embracement of online virtual fitness sessions towards enriching the traditional face-to-face training to retain customers to sustain the business. This is very key, especially in this era when COVID-19 struck the whole world and introduced social distancing and many other restrictions. The use of online virtual fitness sessions is the way to go by fitness clubs.
Methodology: The study employed a purposeful sampling in recruiting participants by choosing a key management team of a fitness club in Shanghai, China, and sending the questionnaires via email or WeChat. Seven research participants were interviewed, each responding toa set of seven questions.
Organizations and companies are taking advantage of the fast-advancing technology to market themselves to clients and as a platform where clients can easily access services. Initially, organizations only used online platforms to enhance customer care services, where professionals are specifically employed to handle social media platforms for the company. The blend of virtual service provision such as physical fitness sessions with traditional one-on-one sessions has been observed to be successful in many institutions such as the education sector.
The virtual provision of physical fitness sessions discouraged many from attending such sessions due to the associated shortcomings on the clients’ side, as indicated by the study participants. As such, it also indicates that many people have not yet embraced virtual service provision. As things move forward, it is very evident that things will remain the same, never getting back to the traditional one-on-one means of service provision. Therefore, there is the need to market virtual service provision to the general population.
The marketing involves the application of various marketing strategies by a fitness club. Some of the highlighted marketing strategies include social media platforms such as TikTok, Dianping, and Douyin. Finally, factors need to be considered when selecting the most appropriate marketing strategy to be used by a fitness club.
Appendix 1: Interview questionnaire
This research will study how a marketing strategy for online virtual training can be used to enrich traditional face-to-face training and help fitness clubs retain customers while sustaining the business’s growth. The research involves a short interview. Please feel free to respond to the questions and ask for clarification if you do not understand a question clearly.
Transcripts for the seven interview questionnaire questions to seven participants
Participant 1- SC
Participant 2- AL
Participant 3- LL
4.Flexible time, convenience (without going out), and low price are the advantages that ease some issues for people who usually train at the gym.
Participant 4 -JM
Participant 5- MW
1.Retaining of existing members is the key; referral of friends and relatives by old members is essential. I prefer to use and Dianping for promotion and find ways to contact the administrative and human resources people for the recreational activities for the enterprises within two to three kilometres from my gym. Use direct marketing and cold calls to promote our gym is offering free group classes or trial use in our fitness club.
4.The advantage of online training is that it allows members to keep training even when they can’t go to the gym (such as business trips, busy work, bad weather). On the one hand, it allows members to maintain their exercise habits. It further increases the adhesion of members with the gym and coaches.
Participant 6- SW
1.We use traditional advertising methods, such as advertising on fitness-related magazines, sending marketing leaflets to neighbourhood residents and companies, external wall advertisements, and distributing flyers outside the fitness centre, but these methods are ineffective. People are inseparable from mobile phones nowadays; they obtain news and information via social media platforms, such as Dianping, WeChat, Douyin(Tik Tok), etc. Generally speaking, consumers who search for products and services online usually focus on prices and reviews.
Participant 7- JZ
1.I would create a check-in place (attraction) for the fitness club, such as wall paintings, design, special drinks, and unique drinking mug for members and visitors. They can take photos and share them with their friends and relatives through social media, Wechat and TikTok. Their postings may attract people to our fitness club and take pictures, increasing the club’s popularity.
I’ll use a particular sales marketing campaign, free trial, one price for two patrons, etc for some of our services and training programs on Dianping and Tiktok platforms to draw the viewers’ eyeballs and attract them to come to our club.
3.I think the integration of digital marketing strategy is vital for the club business. This information helps to optimize the use of the club facilities and business hours to maximize the revenue.
It is an excellent add-valued to personal training services. Customers can notice their health condition more scientifically with data and information that recorded their health daily and review the improvement of its fitness from time to time.
4.It brings convenience to customers on business trips or other engagements that cannot come to the club in person but can still keep their training with their coaches/trainers. This online training service further enhances the persistence of the customers’ training pace and helps achieve their individual fitness goals without affecting by their change of work-life schedule.
5.Online fitness training can keep customers practising their training when they are not coming to the club. However, personal training needs various equipment and tools in the club that guide using experience and professional coach. Customers can never replace this situation except they own equipment and tools like a fitness club does and employ a personal trainer whenever they need.
6.My idea is to shoot short videos of our key and unique services and post them on TikTok and DianpingDouyin (such as lecture clips of instructors, short videos of group exercises, products etc.). Communicate with members about our various products and introduce them to friends. I believe the combination of online service and offline can attract traffic and increase revenue for the company.
7.I have some members who requested me to teach them online while they are on busy trips. I prepared a few short videos for them and asked them to record their training and review it when they come to me for exercise again. However, this occasional arrangement has received no fee from the member. Our club can devise pay and live online training sessions to be included in our regular face to face personal training program. I think it would attract some customers that require such a mixture of online and offline training services.
Appendix 2: Coding and Derivation of Themes
|social media platforms like TikTok and Dianping, traditional advertising aspect, flyers to the nearby residential area and offices, Referrals from existing members, those who like fitness, amazing training results of members, share those members’ data, information.||Types of Marketing strategies, target audience, and steps toward growth|
|Online training gives flexibility and convenience to members, keeps the members training pace and habit without being interrupted, improves the relationship between, increases the members’ engagement, inconsistency of using the equipment and tools, distracted by other matters during the online training, injury due to the improper methods being used and without the guidance of the instructor.||One-on-one versus virtual training program|
|Online personal training should be considered a request service, online personal training should not exceed 20-30% of the purchased program, enhance our competitive edge.||Response of fitness clients and recommendations.|
|Traditional advertising like press releases and email marketing, social media platforms such as Wechat, Dianping, Tik Tok, depends on the fitness club’s neighborhood, devise different kinds of memberships program to meet their needs, various group or private lessons, promote the low business hours with special discounts and added services, conduct an in-depth analysis of our gym’s customer demographics and psychographics,||Types of Marketing strategies, target audience, and steps toward growth|
|integration of the virtual training and the face to face training of a club would bring added value to the members, flexibility and convenience, helps the club to retain the members’ loyalty and lower the churn rate, maintaining members without drop out from training, Physical training is part of my lifestyle , fitness club is not only for exercise but also for meeting and making friends, boring and had no motivation, use different equipment and machinery in the fitness club, Private training is a basic income for the club||One-on-one versus virtual training program|
|online training might be an added value service to private training, customized service, one-to-one online training to the members to keep their training momentum and interact with their coach when they cannot come to the club, evaluate the pro and cons of the online training, analyzing the data and keeping close eyes.||Response of fitness clients and recommendations.|
|fitness exercises be part of people lifestyle, benefits should be cleared and recognized, qualification of the coaches has to be impressive and convinced, targeted for certain types of working people, to solve their pain points by promoting free online consulting sessions, analyze our income and members behaviour monthly, free trial, review or adjust our set business and marketing strategy, knowing our strengths and weakness.||Types of Marketing strategies, target audience, and steps toward growth|
|Flexible time, convenience (without going out), and low price, no professional guidance and unavailability of equipment in the gym, online training may arouse interest to laypeople and beginners||One-on-one versus virtual training program|
|offering online and offline training will incur many variable expenses, not be profitable, tweets, short videos and competitive prices to generate impulse purchasing, aside reserve funds.||Response of fitness clients and recommendations.|
|maximize our gym’s IP and highlight its uniqueness, Tik Tok and Kuaishou, traditional offline advertising and marketing do not attract the eyeballs of people, People who live and work nearby and has no training experience in a fitness club, data for each member, analyze all our data and information, focusing on the most successful groups.||Types of Marketing strategies, target audience, and steps toward growth|
|Online training gave a boom during the pandemic, it is safe, millions of beginners watch online training and exercising at home, create a massive potential, Layman or beginners cannot count on online virtual training, training outcome would not satisfy them, and they may hurt themselves||One-on-one versus virtual training program|
|good incorporation of the online and face to face training, find ways to embrace the benefits of online fitness training, act proactively to satisfy our customer’s expectations||Response of fitness clients and recommendations.|
|referral of friends and relatives by old members, contact the administrative and human resources people, offering free group classes or trial use in our fitness club, who work within 2-3 kilometres, putting advertisements, weekly group training programs, direct messages about price, and products/services offered, intuitive feeling of the price, simple and direct statement allows members to keep training||Types of Marketing strategies, target audience, and steps toward growth|
|allows members to keep training, allows members to maintain their exercise habits, increases the adhesion of members, lack of training environment, no professional coaches to guide.||One-on-one versus virtual training program|
|challenging to integrate, too many free and low-price fitness apps, low price online class, price variance will confuse customers, add an online training course into our existing face to face model, collect feedback from members, analyze the pro-cons,||Response of fitness clients and recommendations.|
|traditional advertising methods, news and information via social media platforms, such as Dianping, WeChat, Douyin (Tik Tok), prices and reviews, work and live nearby, Referrals by existing members, added group classes during lunchtime, encourage members to practice more often||Types of Marketing strategies, target audience, and steps toward growth|
|combining the two modes can provide convenience and flexibility, existing members use some other virtual training apps while they are training in our fitness club, members can’t use different equipment in the gym, coach cannot correct the postures and motions of the learners, virtual training would affect the outcome of their training goals or may hurt their bodies unintentionally||One-on-one versus virtual training program|
|price should be lower for the online training services, offers an online and face-to-face training program in bundle sales, increase the revenue and membership subscription, combine virtual and face to face training||Response of fitness clients and recommendations.|
|create a check-in place (attraction), social media, such as Wechat and TikTok, postings may attract people, increase the club’s popularity, sales marketing campaign, free trial, one price for two patrons, Dianping and Tiktok platforms, from 6 years up to 60 years old, kids from 6 years old and above, work and live in our neighbourhood, direct mailing and handing out flyers, social media.||Types of Marketing strategies, target audience, and steps toward growth|
|convenience to customers, enhances the persistence of the customers’, helps achieve their individual fitness goals, keep customers practising their training, personal training needs various equipment and tools,||One-on-one versus virtual training program|
|integration of digital marketing strategy, shoot short videos of our key and unique services and post them on TikTok, Dianping, and Douyin, communicate with members about our various products and introduce them to friends, combination of online service and offline can attract traffic, prepared a few short videos, record their training and let me review it, no fee from the member, pay and live online training sessions,||Response of fitness clients and recommendations.|
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